Xpress reporter Forbes: NLRB files complaint against Xpress for firing employee

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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UPDATED March 2: From David Forbes on Facebook, a blog compiling “info and public announcements about the union organizing drive at Mountain Xpress.” Xpress needs a union.

UPDATED 1:43 p.m.: Mountain Xpress Publisher Jeff Fobes‘ response on the Mountain Xpress website is here: NLRB issues complaint against Mountain Xpress regarding Max Cooper termination.

From Fobes’ statement:

Mountain Xpress denies these allegations and believes that they will be determined to be without merit. A hearing is scheduled for June 2 at which time the parties can present their evidence. A judge will make findings, which can be appealed by either party to the NLRB. No further comment by Xpress is appropriate at this time.

UPDATED 1:30 p.m.: Ashvegas has obtained a copy of the complaint regarding the firing of Max Cooper.

Read it here: Mountain-Xpress-NLRB-complaint-firing-of-Max-Cooper

The hearing is set for June in Asheville.


Mountain Xpress senior reporter David Forbes took to Twitter Friday morning to deliver an update on the controversy brewing at his workplace, Asheville’s alternative weekly newspaper, since last year. Forbes tweeted that the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has issued a complaint against Xpress for the firing of photographer Max Cooper, detailed here: Mountain Xpress photog to editor: Xpress is bleeding.

Xpress reporter David Forbes

Xpress reporter David Forbes. Photo: Jonathan Welch.

In October Cooper had written a letter to Xpress editor Margaret Williams expressing concern over numerous resignations, concern over work by staffers replaced by “lackluster” freelance contributions, poor morale, and an art and design manager who “by her own admission, cannot design covers.”

Cooper was fired the day after delivering the letter.

The following month Forbes shared on his personal Facebook account that he and other Xpress staffers had begun talks with union organizers to address concerns about working conditions at Xpress.

According to Forbes on Twitter today, the NLRB complaint alleges top management violated Cooper’s rights through unlawful threats and interference with protected activity. Forbes also alleges that Xpress management reacted to union overtures from employees by cutting a week of their vacation time. (Redacted; vacation time was cut after the union drive began, but it’s unknown if this was in reaction to union activity.)

Forbes also states the complaint alleges that Xpress‘ new, post-union-drive employee handbook contains overly broad, coercive rules.

Here’s Forbes on Twitter. “@darktopo” is Cooper’s Twitter handle:

After a thorough investigation, @nlrb has issued complaint against @mxnews for firing of @darktopo

Xpress'  union flier

Mountain Xpress union drive flier

I know that’s a lot to take in. I’m going to go eat and get ready for work. Thanks for your attention and support, everyone.

Along with Cooper, there were at least nine other staff departures from Xpress last year, with six leaving in a single month:

  • Editors Peter Gregutt and Rebecca Sulock
  • Food writer Emily Patrick
  • Assistant Editors Julia Ritchey and Jaye Bartell
  • Clubland Editor Dane Smith
  • Calendar Editor Jen Orris
  • Ad design and pre-press coordinator John Zara
  • Art and design manager Carrie Lare

That’s 10 total. The newspaper has about 30 employees. (UPDATED: Photographer Bill Rhodes also left in 2013, bringing the total to at least 11.)  (UPDATED again: Other Xpress employees to leave in 2013 include designers Emily Busey and Nathanael Roney [all four members of the design department left Xpress] and reporter Caitlin Byrd. Fourteen at least, according to my count. Again, the newspaper has around 30 employees.)

Here’s Max Cooper’s statement about the NLRB complaint:

This morning Mountain Xpress senior news reporter David Forbes announced the success of charges filed against Xpress by the Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO. These charges have resulted in formal complaints issued by the National Labor Relations Board against the Mountain Xpress. The case will be heard by a federal judge in June.

For the record, I will confirm that one of these charges centers around my termination, which came immediately after I formally questioned the paper’s editorial direction, and which the union alleges was unlawful. The other charges have to do with alleged coercive behavior, allegedly unlawful clauses in the Xpress employee handbook and the alleged threats of termination if workers raise concerns to management.

I’ve been privileged to work alongside some incredible journalists. Union organization protects the employee’s right to question management decisions that impact the workplace: In a newspaper, those decisions impact journalistic freedom and determine what information is – and is not – delivered to the public. That’s why Asheville’s engaged readers should pay attention to this effort.

I thank those who have offered their support and wish peace for all involved.

Forbes responds: “Max is a talented professional and a deeply ethical person. I agree with his statement.”

I’ve emailed Xpress Publisher Jeff Fobes seeking his comment.

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1

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  1. S. Andrew June 5, 2014

    I worked at Mountain Xpress for two years, from 2010 thru 2012. Like most every paper out there these days, it’s a total shoestring operation. It has a great mission statement, but not enough revenue to really execute that mission, AND provide staff a right livelihood. Unless you’re a young single person (maybe?), it’s pretty much impossible to live on the wages paid there. The real tragedy, though, is the loss of the long-form, investigative journalism MX once offere–it has steadily given way to trendy fluff and pablum, because the brainier, more substantive reporting is expensive to produce. The paper we enjoyed in the 90s and early 2000s is gone for good, it seems. I wish it were otherwise.

  2. Big Al March 2, 2014

    I wonder how many pro-union (or criticism of anti-union forces) articles Mountain X has published before digging in its’ heels against an in-house union?

    I don’t care for unions myself, but it would be interesting to know how deep (if at all) the hypocrisy of MtnX runs.

    1. LEW March 2, 2014

      I don’t see anywhere in this article where it says Mountain X is ‘diggin in its’ heels against an in-house union.’

      1. Big Al March 3, 2014

        Oh, it is there, it was just conveniently redacted).

        1. Jennifer Saylor March 3, 2014

          Al, the redaction is my error and my misread of Forbes’ tweet. The complaint doesn’t allege that vacation was reduced as a punitive measure against union organizing activity, and neither does David Forbes. Cuts like that happen in this industry. It was, however, part of the poor working conditions that motivated union action.

          1. Jennifer Saylor March 3, 2014

            If you want to see previous Xpress coverage of workers organizing against poor workplace conditions, here’s a great example: Unprecedented: Sitel workers mount historic union organizing drive http://www.mountainx.com/article/44664/Unprecedented-Sitel-workers-mount-historic-union-organizing-drive

        2. Jennifer Saylor March 3, 2014

          It appears that Xpress might have financed David Forbes’ union-drive education, which seems to have served him well.

  3. Sammy Cox February 28, 2014

    Makes me want to advertise in Xpress’ new WNC’s Get it Guide which they’re promoting as “Values driven, conscientious living.” I believe we’re all ‘getting’ it these days! Got it! Good!

  4. Jason Bugg February 28, 2014

    Fobes must be incredibly scared. He hasn’t written anything for the site in years.

    Good. Screw him.

  5. Julia Ritchey February 28, 2014

    As a former colleague and media professional, I applaud Max Cooper and David Forbes for standing up for what’s right. They have my full and unconditional support.

    No one should have to work in an environment of intimidation, threats and inappropriate commentary by a superior — all the reasons why I quit and found a better job.

  6. James Fisher February 28, 2014

    I worked at Xpress from 1995-2011, nearly 16 yrs. i absolutely loved my job and am thankful for the chance to establish myself in this amazing community. These issues go back way further than these past 6 months…20 years after Xpress’ founding, are these patterns of poor treatment finally catching up to Jeff Fobes? Perhaps too little too late but I applaud these current staffers for standing up and asserting themselves. Any chance of fresh ownership happening?

  7. D.Dial February 28, 2014

    Patiently awaiting J.Fobes response.


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